Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program an option for seniors

Posted Nov. 13, 2012, at 9:20 a.m.

Have you been getting sticker shock at the grocery store? Wondering how to keep your pantry shelves stocked and eat healthful meals?

There may be benefits out there for which you are eligible but are not receiving so Eastern Area Agency on Aging is very happy to offer Benefits Check-Ups. Seniors simply contact us and we screen them to determine those benefits for which they might be entitled. Keep in mind, EAAA does not make the final decision on benefits but we can get a rough idea of a person’s eligibility.

Take the Maine Food Supplement Program (MFSP) for instance, which is also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is also known as good old food stamps. While sometimes thought of as a welfare program, in reality, it is not. It’s a nutrition assistance program that was designed to help those with low-incomes afford healthy foods, just as heat assistance programs can help someone stay warm.

MFSP have been misunderstood for years. Some seniors who qualify for the program are hindered by negative opinions it and consequently do not apply for this valuable assistance. But with the price of food continuing to rise, now is the time to check it out.

Good nutrition is essential to good health so for those with limited income, the MSFP may be just the right meal ticket for a better diet. Let me dispel some common misconceptions about the program. One of the biggest is “I make too much money.” Some seniors are surprised to learn that the income guideline for one person is $1,723 a month.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service identified some other MSFP myths prevalent among elderly:

• “Elderly people only receive $10 a month in food stamps benefits.” Not true. That is the least a person will receive but the actual amount can be several times higher depending on certain variables.

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s say you do only get $10 a month. That may not seem like a lot, but I started looking through one of the supermarket flyers and was surprised to see what $10 can amount to.

Peanut butter was two jars for $5, a loaf of store brand bread was 99 cents and a 56-ounce container of orange juice was just over $3. Some of the cereal was $1.88 a box. Now point of this exercise is to show that an extra $10 can make a difference.

On to more myths:

• “Elderly people cannot own, or be buying, a home.” Not true. You can own or buy a home and still be on the program. And the government will not take your home when you pass away.

• “Elderly people are only allowed $2,000 in resources.” Not true. The resources limit for seniors is $3,000.

• Here is a big one: “Other people need it more than I do. If I get food stamps I’ll be taking away from others who have more of a need.” Again, this is not true. MSFP is an entitlement program, which means that everyone who applies and is found eligible, will receive the funds.

The program is all very high tech now, too, with participants receiving what looks like a debit card. It can be used when you buy groceries, like any other debit/credit card so no one standing in line behind you is the wiser. No one will know you are on the program. And each month your benefit will be automatically added to your card on a certain date.

If you are interested in exploring the Maine Food Supplement Program, call EAAA at 1-800-432-7812 for a Benefits Check-Up. You have nothing to lose and may just find yourself with a little extra money to help stock the cupboards.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Agency on Aging.

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